Houston Chronicle

Jan. 25, 2003, 8:38AM

No clear answers in Harris videotape

Grainy footage no smoking gun

Houston Chronicle

Many expected the videotape to show the gruesome death of David Harris.

Even before the trial, media outlets reportedly offered thousands of dollars for the film.

But the much-anticipated footage shot by a private investigator the night Clara Harris ran over her husband was grainy, dizzying and out of focus, and raises more questions than it answers.

The novice private investigator who shot the footage testified Friday that she did not start her camera until after David Harris had already been run over.

When testimony concluded for the day, defense attorney George Parnham told reporters the tape did not hurt his case. He has maintained all along that David Harris' death was an accident.

"The jury had already heard about the going around in circles of the Mercedes," Parnham said. "It seems to me that (the tape) was descriptive of the chain of events that contradicted much of the eyewitness testimony."

Harris, a Clear Lake dentist, is charged with murder for running over her orthodontist husband in the parking lot of a hotel where she had caught him and his lover.

Before the viewing of the tape, a couple who were vacationing at the hotel described how they desperately tried to keep Harris alive while they comforted his daughter, Lindsey, then 16, who had been in the car with Clara Harris.

But the man's testimony was contradictory and at times cast doubt on his credibility.

News of the tape, shot by a private investigator Clara Harris had hired to follow her husband, had been circulating since just days after the July 24 incident. No one knew exactly what the tape would show.

But the two-minute tape -- only about 30 seconds of which shows the actual incident -- was not the smoking gun most thought it would be.

"We saw no reversal. We saw no back and forth. And to that extent I think it was helpful," Parnham said.

Previous accounts indicated that Harris backed her luxury sedan over her husband's body, but that was not shown on the tape. The Mercedes-Benz, already in motion when the film starts, circles about 2 1/2 more times and comes to a stop behind a bush.

Prosecutor Mia Magness and co-prosecutor Dan Rizzo did not comment after the proceedings, as is standard practice for their office.

In the first two segments of the tape, the camera quickly zooms in and out on cars in the parking lot of the hotel, including David Harris' and that of his mistress, Gail Bridges.

The portion showing the incident was shot from inside a car several yards away and only shows a Mercedes making tight, quick circles in the parking lot of the Hilton Inn at 3000 NASA Road 1.

David Harris cannot be seen clearly in the video.

The private investigator, Lindsey Ann Dubec, said although she did not capture the entire incident on video, she knew what had happened.

"He had been (run) over," Dubec said.

Dubec initially left the scene immediately afterward because a friend with her was hysterical. But she said she returned within minutes because she knew she was a witness.

When Parnham asked whether other witnesses would be needed to verify that David Harris was actually run over, Dubec said: "Right ... I didn't see it."

Dubec said she initially told police she had gone inside the hotel and seen David Harris and Bridges together. But she testified Friday that her friend had been the one who did that.

There was other contradictory testimony earlier in the day from Robert Williams of Conroe, who was staying at the Hilton Inn that night with his fiancee, Julie Creger, and her children.

Williams dropped an unexpected new comment, saying he heard Clara Harris cry out as her husband lay dying: "Now you see what I can do."

Parnham was startled and questioned why the statement does not appear in investigators' pretrial documents.

On cross-examination, Parnham said: "Your statement you made on the stand -- that's pretty powerful, wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes, sir," Williams responded.

"That's a statement that goes right to the heart of this case," Parnham said, expressing surprise that there was no written record of such a statement. "This is the first time you've ever told anybody anything along these lines."

Williams said that was true, adding that he never even told his fiancee about the statement and never discussed the case with her. He did admit he had heard Creger give a statement to police.

After initially being excused for the day, Williams asked to return to the stand to clarify some of his testimony. He maintained the statement from Clara Harris was correct.

But he had earlier testified he did not drink alcohol. On his second trip to the stand, he clarified that he had a bourbon and Coke that night but didn't consider that drinking.

He also contended he did not know Magness was with the district attorney's office and that was why he said he never told Clara Harris' statement to anyone. At the request of Parnham, he then produced the subpoena that showed Magness listed as an assistant district attorney.

Creger said her fiance knew they both had talked to prosecutors. Her testimony was almost identical to the statement she gave police a month after the incident.

She said when she rushed to the parking lot, she heard Clara Harris say: "David, look what you made me do."

Creger said she pushed Clara Harris off her husband's body. David Harris was gasping for air and making gurgling sounds, and his limbs were drawing close to his body, as limbs of stroke victims do, she testified. Blood was coming from his nose and mouth.

Creger, who said she was trained in CPR to care for a premature son, tried to help the injured orthodontist breathe. She testified that his jaw was clenched too tightly to open. When she tried to put her fingers in his mouth, a tooth came out.

"I realized there was no more help I could give him at that point, because I couldn't get his jaw unclenched," Creger said, adding that she then held his hand and talked to him for about a minute.

She testified that she then heard a woman crying hysterically behind her. The woman turned out to be Lindsey Harris, David Harris' daughter, who had been a passenger in the front seat of the Mercedes-Benz.

Creger said she first told Lindsey to shut up, but Lindsey said the dying man was her father. Creger testified that she walked over to the girl, trying to get her to calm down.

Creger walked Lindsey to a Lincoln Navigator owned by Bridges, though Creger testified she didn't know who the woman was at the time.

"I believe I said, 'Lindsey, who did this?' " Creger testified. She said Lindsey responded: "My mom. I mean, my stepmom."

"I said, 'Sweetie, did she mean to do this?' She said, 'Yes,' " Creger testified.

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle